Is there a better type of spreadsheet?
May 20, 2013 11:40 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to make a spreadsheet, which would include not just text but images and sets of tags, and maybe other interesting fields of information. Is there a better spreadsheet out there which is more flexible and more like a database?

For example, what I'd like to include in a spreadsheet is:

- images, so that as you scroll through, you can see an image (e.g. a thumbnail) in each entry
- tags, so that a single field could contain multiple tags (or multiple of anything) and there'd be an option to search or categorize within those tags.

Excel and Google Docs Spreadsheets (afaik) don't support images, and each field is supposed to basically contain one thing rather than a list. You can use hacks/kludges to make a field act like a list, but it's not straightforward. Or maybe I just don't know how to use Excel well enough.

I'm wondering if there is some kind of software that's a spreadsheet 2.0, that supports different types of information. Maybe something with plugins? Web based / web interface would be nice to have also.

Thanks for any pointers!
posted by htid to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Spreadsheets are spreadsheets, databases are databases. Is what you actually want a database?

I think this is not what you mean, but the OLE (object linking and embedding) field in MS Access sort of does this, or at least you can include photos and whatnot in your records.
posted by epanalepsis at 11:49 AM on May 20, 2013

When you start including serious amounts of things that aren't data, you're really not talking about a spreadsheet any more - just a table. Tags, images, text in general - spreadsheets are really designed to do things with numbers, sometimes grouped according to text, but definitely all machine-readable text and numbers. Images? You can't average images, you can't add them up, you can't chart them. Each cell should contain one piece of data - the reason you're having trouble putting lists in one cell is that that is Not How Spreadsheets Work. You have a hammer, so you're trying to treat your problem like a nail.

Spreadsheets exist to manipulate data. People use them for other things, but that doesn't mean that's the best way to do that - they're just used to Excel, so they do everything in Excel.

What you seem to be describing isn't "Spreadsheet 2.0," it's (probably) a web-based app that uses a table as a front-end to a database. Yes, it will have rows and columns and cells containing stuff. But it'll be a table, not a spreadsheet.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:50 AM on May 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think what you're looking for is a Dashboard.

I use them in There are 20 objects on a Dashboard, and when you click into the object, you get the granular information of the report.

I really can't say enough about how awesome they are.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:53 AM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Spreadsheets traditionally are designed for calculation, but are sometimes abused for data storage.

There used to be a thing called "personal databases" that let you store and index stuff -- recipes, your media collection, family tree, etc. Microsoft Access and Filemaker are two modern examples you might look into.

Unfortunately your requirements as described are so general that almost anything could apply. Setting up a Wiki might even work. Or a customized blog.

Is there a reason that your solution might be spreadsheet-y in nature?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:00 PM on May 20, 2013

a web-based app that uses a table as a front-end to a database. Yes, it will have rows and columns and cells containing stuff. But it'll be a table, not a spreadsheet.

Ok super! If such a thing exists, I would love to be pointed in that direction. Thanks.

What I'd like is to keep the rows and columns look -- and scrollability -- of a spreadsheet. However, I'd like to be able to display (and maybe apply functions to) more types of data, besides text and numbers.

Is there a reason that your solution might be spreadsheet-y in nature?

An example would be storing recipes. It would be nice to just be able to have a field for ingredients, in a list. And a photo. And the recipe text. And a title. Without having to reinvent the wheel and write my own software. MS Access is a bit complicated, I think? And it doesn't actually display scrollable images (afaik) without some coding. It's nice that you can just open excel and type stuff in, and in one click sort by recipe name. It's also nice that you can scroll, search, and sort by the various columns.

I want to use this to make a list of products, not recipes, but the requirements are similar. I suppose I could teach myself Access, but if there were something user-friendly and easy that is off-the shelf, with a web interface, that would be excellent. Or maybe I just want MS Access.

Thanks again!!
posted by htid at 12:08 PM on May 20, 2013

It is definitely possible to put images into Excel spreadsheet cells. I've done it with Excel on my Mac. I don't remember the exact steps involved, but once I figured it out it's not too bad.

I've never been able to find a way to put multiple values in one cell and have them treated as tags. In fact, I asked about this very thing in AskMe once, and was told by people to just get over it and use a database.

I agree with you that something as easy-to-use as a spreadsheet but with these simple database capabilities would be very useful.
posted by alms at 12:14 PM on May 20, 2013

Oh, please let me know if you'd like me to remember and describe how to get images into Excel spreadsheet cells. I should be able to figure it out again pretty quickly, assuming things haven't changed too much in the last couple of years.
posted by alms at 12:16 PM on May 20, 2013

Thanks alms, I figured out how to do that.

answer at stackoverflow

(Will stop threadsitting now!)
posted by htid at 12:22 PM on May 20, 2013

Offline, LibreOffice Base will supposedly do this. It's not intuitive, so google up how to put images into it.

Online, Google Fusion Tables will display images, but it only accepts URLs that point to them--not the images themselves.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:34 PM on May 20, 2013

What you describe sounds something like Springpad.
posted by yclipse at 1:13 PM on May 20, 2013

If you're on a Mac, you might want to check out Bento.
posted by photovox at 1:44 PM on May 20, 2013

Would Panic's Status Board be applicable? I know it's not a spreadsheet, but when you mentioned "not just text but images" and "other interesting fields of information" it was the first thing I thought of.
posted by Jem and the Hooligans at 1:48 PM on May 20, 2013

You want Bento of your on a Mac. Filemaker will do this on either a Mac or PC - but it is a "database" (but really it's not that scary).
posted by Brent Parker at 4:03 PM on May 20, 2013

This is what Filemaker is for.
posted by odinsdream at 4:15 PM on May 20, 2013

You could do something in python with matplotlib and your favorite GUI library, but that's probably overkill.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:12 PM on May 20, 2013

Not exactly what I was looking for, but Filemaker is the closest without requiring a lot of work. Thanks!
posted by htid at 8:33 AM on May 21, 2013

Check out a new app called "Grid", mentioned in the Wired "Awake" issue.
posted by PickeringPete at 7:52 PM on May 29, 2013

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